Understanding the Damage that Damage Caps Cause

August 6, 2015 | Crandall & Pera Law
Understanding the Damage that Damage Caps Cause

When politicians speak of tort reform, they try to appeal to a large base of voters by skewing the facts about lawsuits. They purposely make victims (and attorneys) sound like greedy penny-pinchers who are purposely “gaming” the system for a payday. And they do this so that people will vote for them, because they sound like they are advocating for justice.

But there is no justice in tort reform – there never has been, and there never will be. All the proof you need is in the case of Kathryn Varnum, a woman so severely injured in the May 12th Amtrak derailment that her medical expenses are already up to $200,000 and her treatment is still far from complete. She has already had multiple procedures (and may be facing more) after fracturing her hip, back and leg, and is largely confined to a wheelchair. She can no longer work, and the doctors cannot tell her when she may be able to return to her job. She is being cared for by her husband who was also seriously injured in the derailment, and is reliant upon her parents to help ferry her to various hospitals and appointments.

All of their money is gone, and there is no guarantee of more money coming in. And Ms. Varnum and her husband, Declan McFarland, risk receiving only a limited amount of funds because of a “congressionally mandated cap on liability for Amtrak accidents can leave victims with enormous bills [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][and is] aimed at keeping railroad companies in operation when hit with major lawsuits.”

In other words, Congress ensured that injured Plaintiffs could only sue for a limited amount of money.   As Harvard professor John C.P. Goldberg explained, “When Congress enacted the cap, it made the judgment that victims of large-scale railroad crashes will be among those who have to bear the cost of keeping Amtrak up and running.” By limiting how much compensation Amtrak can provide, either through a trial or a settlement (they chose to settle), victims are essentially paying to help keep Amtrak running.

A history of choosing corporations over people

This is not, sadly, the first time victims will be made to pay. The Times cites a 2008 Metrolink commuter train crash that occurred in California; 199 people were injured and 24 people died. “Judge Peter D. Lichtman, now retired, said an additional $64 million beyond the liability cap was needed to properly compensate victims…. But he was unable to get more because of the federal limit on damages.” Judge Lichtman was forced to decide which family “deserved” more money, even if it meant taking away compensation from other victims.

The Amtrak case highlights the true problem with capping damages: the victims are hurt all over again. Damage caps make the injured parties help bear the cost of keeping a corporate entity up and running even though it has acted negligently. The same is true for medical malpractice caps, too. It is incredibly insulting at best and unjust and unfair at worst. Tort reform may be needed in some jurisdictions, but caps are almost never the answer.  Victims’ ability to obtain the help they need to move forward, after horrific losses and suffering, should not be limited by arbitrary caps.

Crandall & Pera Law is dedicated to helping catastrophic personal injury victims throughout Ohio and Kentucky. To learn more about our services, or to find out how damage caps could hurt your recovery, we invite you to contact us today.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]